“Eventually, at the age of ten, I found myself invited to a party during which reverberations of profanity echoed through the night air of the backyard like tender kisses being blown through the breeze by wood nymphs. With the chaperoning adults inside the house, my fifth grade peers felt a refreshing wave of freedom and power.”
Category Archives: Essays
As challenging a life as I sometimes think I have, it’s nothing compared to the torturous turmoil and ceaseless suffering endured by my six-year-old-son.
Each morning, upon rising from ten or possibly even only nine hours of sleep, he is chronically faced with the devastating psychological trauma of an iPad that was not charged the night before and therefore only possesses four percent of its battery life. Hardly enough energy to power through a game of solitaire, never mind a round of Avengers’ Contest of Champions or even Flappy Goat. Even more humiliating, he is usually blamed for the oversight of not plugging in the iPad and must defend his honor. Loudly.
My son must survive throughout the week on an exponentially smaller wardrobe than the rest of the family due to a debilitating ailment that prevents him from putting away his clothes. This condition causes a category of blindness that only affects his ability to see articles of clothing on the floor, although visualization of other objects, such as legos or video game controllers, is not affected. Tragically, there’s no cure or treatment currently available.
Each day, my son must deal with the tremendous stress of being forced to ‘eat healthfully’, precisely defined in our house as three meals that don’t all include chocolate milk. The agony of being obliged to consume raw carrots is written across his furrowed brow in unspoken sorrow….unless it’s being spoken at full volume and with a slight nasally whine.
Constant physical issues plague my son. Nearly every day, and sometimes hourly, my son must tolerate random aches and pains that seem to materialize without rhyme or reason. Whether it’s a sudden twinge in his pinkie toe or an agonizing but somewhat vaguely described popping feeling in his ear, my son’s only recourse is to provide a detailed and regularly updated report on his latest series of discomforts, punctuated intermittently with vocal validation of his pain, such as ‘Ow! Ow!’ Thankfully, most of these problems seem to respond immediately to chocolate ice cream.
Occasionally, my son will experience violent fits, which tend to occur immediately after being asked to set the table or sort socks. He’ll temporarily lose the ability to communicate except in loud shrieks and exclamations of negativity. Sometimes his state will devolve even further to include writhing and flailing on the floor. This corporeal trauma only seems to abate after desperate pleas and negotiations concerning television privileges. By that time, my son is so physically exhausted, he must drag himself up the stairs while moaning and complaining noisily, poor fellow.
My son is cursed with a vivid imagination and curious nature. He is compelled to inquire about a host of random and trivial subjects which may or may not include a discussion on the potential martial arts skills of adolescent reptiles, a post-mortem on all the flavors of soda he has ever tasted, or a demand for the number of minutes he has been alive. Ironically, requests for information about HIM are typically answered with ‘I don’t want to tell you.’
My son’s remarkable resilience despite the brutal torments he must tolerate day in and day out is truly inspiring to me and everyone else in the household. Despite all his hardships, he typically ends each grueling day with a brave smile. As long as that day ends with chocolate ice cream….For medicinal purposes, of course.
‘“What is that smell?” I will wonder aloud, my nose wrinkling, as I pass through the hallway outside the kids’ toilet and contemplate whether someone has been careless enough to let an alley cat into our home. Perhaps my sons have somehow regressed to the point at which they feel the need to mark their territory, although the cheery pirate bathroom motif should really suffice.’….
Although I am not particularly squeamish about using public restrooms that may be described with a list of adjectives that does not necessarily include ‘sterile’, ‘spotless’ or even ‘clean’, I have recently developed a strong aversion to entering a specific bathroom that is right down the hall from where I live. In my own house. And belonging to my own children.
This space, which USED to resemble a bathroom, but now has taken on a certain post-apocalyptic war-ravaged feel, is the only room in the house that appears impervious to the bi-weekly cleanings I pay someone else to do. Like a haunted attic that just won’t stay cobweb-free no matter how many times you dust, my boys’ restroom seems to revert back to its previously characteristic state of horror seemingly within moments of my cleaning lady’s exit through the front door.
“What is that smell?” I will wonder aloud, my nose wrinkling, as I pass through the hallway outside the kids’ toilet, and contemplate whether someone has been careless enough to let an alley cat into our home. Perhaps my sons have somehow regressed to the point at which they feel the need to mark their territory, although the cheery pirate bathroom motif should really suffice.
I’ve tried ignoring the existence of the bathroom and hoping any visiting guests will do the same, but that’s about as difficult as concealing a crack den in an otherwise tidy two-story suburban residence – you’re just bound to notice one room is a bit…off.
So, on occasion, my husband and I will force ourselves through the threshold and survey the damage. Aside from the distinct aroma, we will marvel at the amount of toothpaste that appears to be growing up from the tile on the sink, like an insidious blue-green sparkly mold that has broken out of a science lab petri dish and intends on devouring our home, surface by surface.
Until we look closely, we’ll assume that something has exploded within the basin itself, as tiny white ricochet marks seem to cover the entire expanse of the ceramic. Upon further inspection, we’ll realize it’s a Jackson Pollack pattern of toothpaste, saliva and tiny bits of whatever else happened to be swirled around in someone’s mouth and then shot out in a detonating eruption.
My husband and I stand aghast for about as long as we can muster up the strength (which isn’t very long), before loudly demanding the presence of our sons.
“What is this mess?!” I will bellow.
“What mess? By the way, I got an eight out of ten on my English test,” the older one will rapidly fire out, as he takes on the persona of a diminutive Jedi Master attempting to supernaturally compel our attention from the state of the bathroom to something else entirely.
“I think the toilet is dripping.” My younger son’s approach is to place the blame on anyone else, especially inanimate objects that cannot argue in their own defense.
“Oh, there’s some dripping going on, but not from the toilet…” I remark, while pointing my finger and furrowing my brow in a way that suggests less television and dessert if matters are not attended to immediately.
Painfully, I coerce my children into cleaning the bathroom. Unfortunately, my sons are about as effective at it as I happen to be, which is why I hire someone else to do it in the first place. Sigh. Perhaps she has a free day this week.
One of the most challenging aspects of parenthood is convincing your child that you have some idea of what you are doing…because you usually don’t.
“I don’t need a jacket today,” my six-year-old will report to me on mornings that I look out the window and observe ice falling from the sky.
“You need a jacket,” I will insist, “It’s freezing, and you are only wearing a t-shirt that appears to be two sizes too small.”
“But, I’m not cold,” he will reason, as if logic is something he uses on a regular basis.
“Put on your jacket,” I will counter.
“But, MOMMY WHHHHHHYYYYYYY?” His voice will go up several octaves and level out in a long whine like a dying balloon looking for a safe place to land on the floor.
“Because,” I will pause and then utter those words that all parents swear never to use: “I SAID SO.”
Providing such rationale is typically a dead giveaway to any child worth his salt that you have exhausted all your ‘real’ answers and have gotten desperate. My older son, aged ten going on 40, is especially salty.
“I really think you should join a soccer league,” I will say on occasion, varying the suggested sport with each season.
“Not interested,” he will murmur from the couch, the glowing reflection of Minecraft dancing in his eyeballs.
“You’ll make some new friends,” I will point out, “And, you could really use the exercise..”
I’ll go over a prepared list of data points and supporting research to validate my position, like a freshman on the first day of debate club, usually getting monosyllabic counter-arguments or grunts in reply.
Finally, I’ll give up. “How do you know you don’t like something if you don’t try it??” I’ll wail, exasperated.
Here, he’ll glance up briefly and inform me, “I’ve never tried having my brain eaten by zombies, but I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t like it.”
Obviously, my children are getting older, and they are becoming more aware of the fact that at any given time, as a parent, I am winging it. “Because,” is increasingly less convincing as an answer for questions like, “Why can’t I have a bowl of jelly beans for dinner?” or “How come I have to wear pants to Grandma’s party?” Really, I just don’t know.
Recently, I overheard my older son instructing his brother on the finer points of a video game they were playing.
“Why do I need to defeat ALL the bad guys on this level?” the six-year-old questioned.
“Because….,” his brother paused, “I said so.”
At least I’m not the only one who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
For the past week or so, I’ve had a minor sore throat—nothing keeping me up at night, just a slight twinge of pain, mostly in the morning when I swallow down that first glass of water. Although I haven’t rushed out to a doctor or walk-in clinic yet, I have been spending my free time pondering the possibilities of whether it’s allergies, stress, a postnasal drip, or perhaps the first symptoms of throat cancer.
Despite a historic lack of experience or proficiency on the matter, I recently discovered a hitherto hidden talent in myself – the aptitude of abhorrence.
And, while I have used the word ‘hate’ in varying degrees of articulated emotions, I was likely wasting it on matters that now seem clearly trivial.
“Hate is a strong word,” my mother would comment after I expressed my feelings as a child about the slimy, gelatinous slices of ooze on my plate that she assured me were zucchini.
“You should never say hate,” I remember my grandmother instructing, although her passionate religious convictions probably precluded her from participating in the colorful discussion I hoped to have about the girl in my third grade class who stole my idea about what to play at recess.
In the universal sense, I hate ignorance and mass genocide and people who don’t clean up their pee after using public toilets. But, personally, apart from my proclivity for the dramatic and need to embellish narratives about my daily life in order to provide more entertaining accounts to friends and family, I don’t think I have ever put in the effort it takes to truly hate anything or anyone.
It didn’t happen all at once. It grew like a pervasive, resistant virus, attaching its thorns into my heart and taking root in my brain. Some days I would fight it, using logic and common sense to dampen the heat that seemed to be constantly building within me. Other days I would embrace it, relishing the validated rage I felt by poring over injustices that had been committed against me.
Hate is tiring. It requires a dedication of time and energy. It involves hours of obsessive thoughts and dark fantasies. The kind that pull you away from your regular responsibilities and demand your full attention. It steals your sleep and eats away at your joy.
Hate takes a toll on your body. It quickens your heartbeat and gives you a sweat. It blurs your vision and fills your ears with a cloud of noise. It hardens your expression and puckers your lips.
Hate makes you a bore. It constricts your conversations into repetitive rants and alienates your friends and family. It opens a faucet of negativity that flows from your mouth, spills out all over the floor and must be stepped over cautiously by relatives unlucky enough to be listening.
Hate is irrational, illogical and uncontrollable. It is intolerant, angry and vicious. It is fearful, gathering in the shadowy recesses of your soul feeding off distant memories of anguish or struggle. It’s fueled by anxieties of the indefinite; to hate is to throw a lasso around the unknown and brand it for yourself.
Hate is pointless. It sickens without a cure, weakens without an ending and deteriorates without closure.
There is no resolution. But, eventually there may be diminishing, given the right evolution of circumstances. A softening, like a lens that readjusts as a point of reference recedes in the background.
As dark and vibrant as my hate feels today, I am clinging to the hope that it will soon fade.
There are two types of people who will tell you that “Life begins at 40,” or “40 is the new 20,” or any of that other nonsense that people feel obligated to console you with as you approach a milestone that (optimistically) marks the middle of your life.
“As I felt increasing pressure about what I needed to look or act like, I longed to wake up one morning as a boy, throw on whatever T-shirt smelled the freshest, run a comb through my hair (or not) and feel ready to walk out of the house as Ferris Bueller or Marty McFly, convinced I’d be judged on how cool I was, not how pretty I looked. If I could not get to live that fantasy, I’d live it vicariously through my sons.”